Pokemon Go : One Thing The Game Has Been Missing Since Launch

Raids went live in Pokemon GO the other night. The community has been speculating about them for more than a year, ever since a Times Square battle with Mewtwo held a prominent place in the reveal trailer. At first, it was hard to tell when people would get their hands on them: the first raids were limited to players level 35+, and seemed to be confined to sponsored Pokestops.

It quickly became clear that this wasn’t going to be very hard to do. South Philly was popping with raids this morning, which made me worried that any given encounter wouldn’t be well attended. As of this writing, there are 8 raids counting down in my immediate vicinity, and it’s unclear if things are going to continue at such a blistering pace or if this is a launch thing. I set out regardless, choosing a raid over at the “Hoagie Man” gym a couple of blocks away. I got there with about four minutes to spare: there were a couple of guys standing around on the relatively empty corner looking down at their phones: not hard to tell what was going on there.

You can guess what happened next: I went over and talked to them, and this is not a small deal. There has so far been almost no reason to talk to someone else while playing this game aside from general, non-Pokemon GO-oriented friendliness, but the raids give you something to go off of. You know why these people are here, you’re waiting around for a couple of minutes anyway, and you’re all going to have to cooperate to some degree once the thing goes live. It felt like the dream of Niantic’s original trailer made one step closer to reality. The timer ticked down to zero and everyone geared up.

The raid itself was totally fine. We went up against a tier-3 Machamp, and so we all selected some psychic Pokemon and took him down in about twenty seconds or so. The game doled out some of the new rewards and then we all got a chance to catch the big guy, who I was still missing in my Pokedex.

Not earth-shaking, but totally enjoyable and a pleasing way to make use of your library of Pokemon. The game awards you a limited number of chances to do this by metering out special “Premier Balls,” but everyone got to take the prize home. My raidmates went on to a Tier-4 about ten blocks away, and I ran out of battery due to a poorly planned morning.

The key to this is that raids add something absolutely crucial to this game that was totally missing before. Since launch, Pokemon GO has been multiplayer by default: it asks you to go outside, and there are people out there. There weren’t, however, any actual game mechanics that encouraged you to interact with other players: no PvP, no trading, etc. There were ways to somewhat coordinate your playtime with other people by attacking gyms, but it stopped short of something you could actually call co-op. Now, finally, we’ve got something to do. And that changes the game.

Pokemon GO now has a genuine multiplayer feature, and it’s almost like a new game. I haven’t really spoken to anyone else playing this game in months, but today I had a nice little chat with a few people who I’m sure I’ll see again around the neighborhood. That, right there, makes it all worth it. The fact that Niantic is already monetizing this to death is almost an aside.

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